Making its Presence Felt in Brevard
When professional baseball’s Washington Nationals and Brevard County Manatees both made 2016 their last year at Space Coast Stadium and its adjoining practice fields in Viera, the void they left behind certainly didn’t last long.
Today, the dramatically revamped facility is hopping year-round with all manner of amateur baseball and softball action, thanks to the very timely arrival of USSSA, the United States Specialty Sports Association.
USSSA is the world’s largest multisport athletic organization, with more than 4.5 million participants of all ages and skill levels competing all over America in 13 sports, including baseball, fastpitch and slow-pitch softball, basketball, soccer, flag football, and tae kwan do.
“Our program touches all generations,” says Don DeDonatis III, the group’s CEO. “Whether you want to compete at the highest level or just for fun, we have a platform for creating powerful, lasting memories for each individual. Our mission is to make our events more of an experience and not just another sports tournament.”
When USSSA heard the Nationals and Manatees were moving out of Space Coast Stadium, it knew it wanted to move in.
The organization had outgrown the field capacity available in Orlando at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports facility and wanted a home it could call its own.
USSSA negotiated with Brevard County to take over the Viera location, then undertook a massive overhaul of the place, using more than $22 million of its own money, plus a $10 million investment from the county. The result was a world-class, state-of-the-art baseball/softball destination now known as the USSSA Space Coast Complex. Think of it as the Kennedy Space Center of diamond sports. “Visitors are blown away by the facility,” DeDonatis admits.
USSSA hosted about 45 multiday sports events at the complex in 2018 and will stage approximately 50 there this year. The tournaments last year drew roughly 100,000 visitors, mostly from outside Florida, and amounted to a total attendance at all games of about a half million.
The wave after wave of teams and fans arriving from across the U.S. clearly has been a bonus for Space Coast tourism. “We have definitely seen a positive impact on our resort due to the USSSA youth and adult tournaments and events,” notes Ruby Daniels, the general manager of Cape Crossing Resort & Marina, on Merritt Island.
For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, USSSA estimates the tally so far of room nights reserved along the Space Coast for its events is running at more than 63,000, and counting. From January through September 2018 alone, more than 40 team events accounted for at least 52,000 room nights, according to the Space Coast Tourism Development Office. The TDO estimates the total economic impact from those January-September events amounted to “a very conservative” $12.4 million and change.
Beyond lodging, a lot of that spending by players, coaches and their families and other fans ends up with area restaurants, retailers, gas stations, attractions and entertainment venues.
The additional traffic USSSA events is generating is unmistakable. Twice last year, the Outback Steakhouse near the sports complex reportedly ran out of food because of the crush of hungry teams showing up.
“It’s had a definite impact on our business,” says Robin Orlando, of Brooklyn Pizza & Pasta in Rockledge. “We see families and teams visiting from out of town all the time.”
“And these teams are loyal, repeat customers who will be coming back year after year,”
adds DeDonatis. “They’re traveling here for our sports events and then discovering the many other things on the Space Coast to enjoy, as well.”
The USSSA Space Coast Complex last year hosted the WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup – a major coup – and telecast the contests to more than 120 countries, giving the Space Coast global visibility. Meanwhile, the website USSSA.com has streamed thousands more games plus other Space Coast images from the complex, also extending awareness.
In addition, USSSA has been quick to support other local athletics. It has provided its complex for free use by the boys baseball and girls fastpitch teams from Viera High School, as well as Team Florida’s Special Olympics unified softball team.
Among USSSA’s next objectives are more events overall, especially during some of the slower periods for area tourism.
“We want this to be a win-win for everyone, as we create more events, spur more local business and attract more people here,” states DeDonatis. “We plan to be a great partner for a long time.”
VIERA HIGH SCHOOL
BASEBALL & FASTPITCH
“There is nothing like playing on the artificial surface at the USSSA Space Coast Complex. USSSA has done an outstanding job building one of the best baseball-softball complexes in the country. Our players love playing in the stadium – it makes going to the ballpark a dream come true for us. What a wonderful addition to Brevard County, with all the visitors coming from all over the country to participate in softball and baseball and other sporting events.”
– Robert Doty, Baseball Coach, Viera High School
UNIFIED SOFTBALL TEAM
“As a Special Olympics coach and Unified Partner for a number of years, I’ve learned that it’s always a challenge to find quality fields for our athletes to compete on. When our Unified softball team earned the opportunity to represent Team Florida at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, USSSA was a great partner and certainly contributed to our success. They made their facility available for our training sessions and made sure we had what we needed to successfully defend our gold medal from 2014. Special Olympics Brevard loves having USSSA as part of our team.”
– Bob Rall, Special Olympics Team Florida Coach
“USSSA has been an awesome addition to our growing community! Its facilities are not only visually appealing, but very desirable for our economy. It’s great to have the influx of new visitors who get to see what our county has to offer. The staff is top notch, as well. They’re great community partners.”
– Mike Acosta, Viera Pizza &
Power of Pizza Charities, Melbourne
“Pepsi is thrilled to be the exclusive beverage partner of USSSA. We are so fortunate to have this elite organization in Brevard County. It brings top athletes and their families from around the country and the world to our area, which is a huge boost for our local economy. And it’s nice to be able to showcase this great area with USSSA visitors who may never have visited here before or realized what a great place we live in, with our beautiful beaches, rivers and people!”
– Laurinda Watts, PepsiCo Foodservice,